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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  February 21, 2015 4:30pm-5:01pm PST

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>> funding for "overheard" with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community. experienced, respected, and tested. and also by hillco partners. texas government affairs consultancy, and its global health care consulting business unit, hillco health, and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. and viewers like you. thank you! >> i'm evan smith, he's a senior energy reporter for the "wall street journal" and a finalist for the pulitzer prize whose new book is the boom, how fracking ignited the u.s. energy revolution and changed the world, he's russell gold. this is "overheard." >> actually, there are not two sides to every issue.
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>> yeah. we can't fire him now. >> i guess we can't fire him now. >> the night that i win the emmy. >> being on the supreme court was an improbable dream. >> it's hard work and it's controversial. >> right. without information there's no freedom and it's journalists who provide that information. >> window rolls down and this guy goes, hey, it goes to 11. [ laughter ] >> russell gold, welcome. >> thank you. >> good to see you, congratulations on the book, let me ask you about publishing entry hyperbole in this title. change the world. >> the world. >> the world really, not just changed our country, but changed the whole world. >> energy is one of the most important industries in the whole world, without energy, none of the other industries happen, you don't make cars, you don't do any of that, so, yeah, we were running out of energy. there was all this talk a few years ago, peak oil, where were we going to find enough oil,
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where was the energy going to come from, we have more than enough oil. >> we're having a credible conversation about being independent. >> it's unbelievable. >> of the rest of the world here in this country. >> unthinkable a few years ago to have this conversation. >> amazing, the pervasiveness of fracking, the subject of this book, we'll get into a little bit -- i want to do fracking 101 for our audience in a second, the pervasiveness of this i was really surprised by, 100 wells a day. >> right. >> are being dug. >> in the united states. >> in the united states. >> a hundred wells a day. >> it hasn't spread outside of north america. but that will come, everyone will expect it to happen, it's taking a little bit of time. this is the leaden indicator of what is to come. >> it was discovered here, the technology, all of the infrastructure, the pumps, everything was here, that's why it takes off in the united states first, right now whether you go to russia, poland, argentina, australia, all around the world, they're exploring
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trying to figure out how to export or import fracking into their country. there's no reason geologically. >> the other statistic be beyond the one hundred wells a data fascinated me, how many people are impacted by fracking, you and a colleague analyzed data, if i read this property, 11 major energy producing states, 700 counties, you wanted to understand how many people in this country have a well a mile or less. >> from them. >> from them. >> exactly. >> and the answer was more than 15 million people. >> right. more people than live in new york city. exactly. >> you have that many people who are so close to this activity. those people may not have a direct tie to it, but they can't help be affected by this. >> one of the things i've learned traveling the country over the last ten years, i started reporting on this change in energy ten years ago, one of the things i learned is people
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are most affect business district i the well drilling. there's a lot of talk about water and air quality, what really gets to people is the trucks on the road. when you talk to people, what's the big deal. we wanted to find out how many people have lived near one of these new fracking developments. >> right. >> and they are -- they're getting trucks coming in, they sometimes have trouble sleeping because of the noise and the lights. so we really wanted to get a sense. >> but that's the negative part, right? >> absolutely. >> and undeniable, but there's also of course an economic benefit to a lot of the communities in which this activity is happening. >> one of the things you often hear about fracking is, oh, this is such a bad activity, when you go and talk to the people who are most directly affected, what you often hear are my son was able to get a job. i mean i spent a lot of time in central pennsylvania, not very heavily populated, i kept hearing story after story about oh, my grandchildren, my children had to move away, now they're able to come back, because there are jobs there. whether it's driving truck, whether it's working on these rig, whether it's servicing,
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building pipelines, there are a lot of people who are very happy to have fracking and energy development come to them. >> let's come to the good and the bad in a second. let's first define what we're talking about. fracking is the common parlance for hydraulic fracture. explain what this is and how the process works. >> at its most simplest, you drill a well straight down, you turn it horizontally, you run it through the shale, which is a very thick dense rock, imagine a blackboard, you're not going to get anything out of it, and then you inject water with some sand and some chemicals down into the well, extraordinaire pressure, and that causes fracture, cracks. one -- one scientific paper i read a few years ago said that the average fracture, the amount of area that's fractured is equal to i think it's ten times the mall of the americas, the square space. it's an enormous number of fractures, the water, the liquid's brought out and that
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allows gas and oils that been trapped in there to start flowing out and that's essentially what fracking is. >> how far back does this process date? this is obviously something that people were not doing for all time or are only aware of it now, it's a relatively recent phenomenon. >> it is, but it isn't, i define modern fracking beginning in 1998. >> i consider that fairly recent. >> well, that's when the young completion engineer working north of fort worth said, you know what, can we do -- can we open up this shale that's around us and do it economically, that's where you have the slick water frac, mostly water, a lot of pressure, slickened with some chemicals. >> right. >> but you go back to just after the civil war, the invention, the discovery of oil in western pennsylvania, believe it or not, you had fracking back then, you had a really early form of fracking, because you would drill a well, you could come two, three feet away from an oil seem and completely miss it. your well would miss it, someone
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figured out if i put a torpedo down the well, create fractures out from that well, maybe i'll create other seems. so the idea really is old as the oil industry. >> we really only seem to have been talking about it for the last couple of years, even if you go to the 1998 date, it's a little bit like the classic yellow volkswagen, you don't see one, suddenly you see one every day. it's almost like a day does not pass when we don't talk about fracking in this country. >> you go back textbook years ago, its was still being taught the shale rock, the source rock, oil and gas is created, if you hit shale rock, that was a bad well. you weren't looking for that ten, fifteen years ago, that was the conventional wisdom, then all of a sudden the industry realized, wait a second, we cannot just make a well work into this, but it's very economical, and there's a lot of oil and gas there, we knew was there but we could never touch.
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>> technology in theory has also caught up with our ambitions. >> exactly. technology starts to goat better, all of a sudden it goes, wait, we can do this in one place in north texas, we can do it across the world. >> let's start not in texas but in pennsylvania, as you begin the story, it's a personal connection to this. >> absolutely, sure. >> that you have that is the basis for at least the beginning of the story, it's about your parents and the trust that they're a part of and land in pennsylvania that ultimately the right to require, talk a bit about that. >> this was land about a hundred acres in north central pennsylvania, they bought in the early '70s with a group of friends, we grew up in philadelphia, this was a cheap place to get vacation, to have their kids runaround in the woods, about five years after i started reporting on fracking, i got a call from my mother, someone contacted us, a company called chesapeake energy, they want to lease our land, they want to frac, what should we do, all of a sudden this question which as a reporter i had asked and traveled around and written
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articles about became very personal, because now it was my parent saying what should we do. >> if it's a good idea, and how do you make certain that your rights are being sold at the right amount? >> uh-huh. >> how do you put protections in place. >> right. >> right. >> so all of these things become an issue. >> what i recommend to them, i said, look, this is going to be intrusive, when they build the well, that period of time, a few weeks, maybe two months, it's going to be loud, it's going to be noisy, but once that's over, it's not going to be the end of the world, however, you have to take steps to make sure this is done right, you have to make sure that the water is protected, that the well is built right, and that's one thing that is is so often forgotten. drilling a hundred wells a day, these are all wells that have to be properly built, because we're changing the energy world right now, but we really don't know yet whether we're going to look back in a generation with relief or regret that we did this. >> right. >> there's still -- there's questions out there. >> there are open questions as to the impact of all of this
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activity, even this activity done properly. >> i would think if you're doing this properly, if you're building wells, if you're taking the right steps, fracking is ultimately something that is beneficial. >> right. >> you're talking about especially with natural gas an efficient fuel, a low carbon fuel and a few frankly that can paved the way for renewable energy future, something i think the majority of people agree with. however, there's no guaranty you're doing it right, there needs to be a real focus and attention on how do we do this, and frankly, one of the things that really surprised many, ten years into this fracking boom, you mentioned the public was just started becoming aware of it, the industry certainly knew about it, we're just now asking some of these really critical questions. >> fundamental, basic questions. >> right. >> how much gas are we leaking and is that bad for climate change? what can we do to the protect the water. >> what is the impact on drought starved communities like the state of texas which we know has come out recently, the worst one
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year drought in the history of the state, is the use of water by energy companies as part of the fracking process ultimately a negative. >> right. >> the answer there -- >> different arguments on different sides about that. >> i think the answer there is fairly clear, that when you're talking about energy production, yes, you use a lot of water to inject into the well and frac millions of gallons, but if you're looking at from the beginning to the end, when you drill the well to dig up the coal, natural gas is not a hugely -- doesn't use as much water as some of the others. >> and a number of the companies doing the drilling are recycling water, they're using nonpotable water, the reality is they're getting innovative in their use of technology. >> that's a big trend, nonpotable water, there's pen at this of this salty water, they're starting to use that, tweaking the chemistry of fracking, lo and behold, it works just as well. >> i think about your parents i think that the average person
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who is approached by one of these fueling companies to get access to their hand, they don't have a russell gold in the family, they don't have -- >> that's why i wrote the book. >> but the point is you're not on call for every single family who is approached by one of these drilling companies and that's one of the concerns that people have is that there are family who are caught flat footed, people approach you, say we want to have access to your land to drill, they don't have the negotiating savvy or the basic knowledge about the process, they don't know how to protect themselves, they don't know if the price they're being offered -- we would like to believe every company is doing so pure of heart, we're going to offer you the right amount, there are concerns that some families are getting gypped. >> there's no question about that, one of the things i saw emerge very early on were community groups, you they would pull together, no, we're going to pull together 600 acres. >> you have to negotiate with all of us. >> that happened quite a lot, lawyers began to get involved,
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so were there people who probably signed in a way they shouldn't have, got less than they wanted or should have? absolutely. but at the same time it's not what actually happened was that people are pretty savvy, a lot of people in places like north dakota, south texas, pennsylvania, these are agricultural communities, they understand the value of the land, they're not going to sell away their land for nothing, they have for generations used the land to support themselves. so there was i think more savvy than you probably expect. >> this group was about a great many things and covers a whole lot of ground, but i want to think about two people in particular, one is aubrey mcclendon, formerly of chesapeake, the other is the late recently deceased george mitchell, talk about them as they play out as characters. >> let me start with george mitchell. i had the honor of having dinner with him, and a son and grandchildren down in galveston awhile ago, george mitchell is a fascinating american character, he enters the houston of the
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1940s, there was a lot of drilling on hunches and he brought science to bear. he was -- he wanted data. he wasn't going to lease land, he wasn't going to drill land until he had data. and he was the first person to lease up all of that land in the 1950s, north of the fort worth. over what we now know is the barnett shale. but one of the amazing things was that fracking had just come into -- i talk about the modern fracking, hydrafracking starts right after world war ii, this is a brand-new technology, taking water, they used toed a napalm to it to slicken it. he actually fracked wells, early, very small fracs, so he would do that, and he starts making good wells, the first ten wells he drills were good, so for 30e years, he is drilling up north of fort worth, every time he drills down a little deeper, he goes through this rock called the barnett shale and his instruments show him, there's gas here, but it's incredibly
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thick, and from 1982 on, he basically runs an experiment, he would drill a few wells a year into the barnett shale and try fracking them, and failure was okay. that's what he told his people, you're allowed to fail on a small number of wells, and they kept doing it. talk about persistence, for what is that, almost 20 years, they kept drilling and having bad wells. this young guy, he said, well, we've been using this heavy viscous gel, why don't we try it with water? a lot more horsepower than we ever have before,en lo and behold, it works better than anything else, so really george mitchell, and the fascinating thing about mitchell, he believed in sustainability, he had this whole idea, he wanted to support sustainability, he really has this paradox, how can you be such a green focus person on sustainability, funding early studies in sustainability, studies with buckminster fuller
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and yet never really move beyond fossil fuels, never really engage with renewables, it's his work and his persistence that allows fracking to take off, then all of a sudden once the evidence is out there you can frac these wells, this young guy from oklahoma city, aubrey mcclendon, not the first to do it, not each the second or 3rd to do it, he realizes this is really revolutionary, this is going to change all the assumption, everything he knows, his great addition he knew how to bring money into the picture, he knew how to go to wall street and get billions of dollars. he turns she's peek energy, when i started covering the industry in 2002, wasn't on the radar screen, before long he starts drilling more wells than any other company in the world, he's got land leased, what, the size of kentucky at one point, and he -- every competing ceo you talked to said he pushed it so quickly, and we were forced to keep up, and that's why it
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sometimes feels like fracking appears out of nowhere, because he set the industry going at 60, 70, 80 miles an hour, just speeding -- yaw, amazing. let me go back to the question of good and bad, we understand the economic benefit to a lot of communities has been enormous, arguely the state of texas weathered the recession that every other state suffered under the weight of in large part because the energy economy here was kind of ain't insulation, right, against many of the outside forces that affected a lot of other states, the economic benefit is there, there are always questions about water, there are questions about whether emissions, air pollution is problematic in communities, maybe more problematic than the typical kind of air pollution that we encounter, there's the tearing up of the roads which you alluded to, whether north dakota or pennsylvania or here, how our community is suffering and who is paying cost to repair
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those things. there's a good and a bad. talk about the bad. >> i will. what i wanted to point out is you can have a perfectly -- you can have a booming economy based on energy without giving a thought to the environment and to the community. >> right. >> or you can completely protect the environment and community and your economy is going to suffer, so the real question is how do you find that middle ground. >> where is the middle point. >> exactly. and one of the things i've really learned and one of the points i make in the book book is there really is no perfect balance. you have to keep striving for that balance, there are companies out there that are constantly asking that question, they're saying, getting back to this question, okay, we're learning that when you run the compressors and the drilling riggs in communities, there's some air emissions, and there's some air emissions that potentially are harmful, how do we do that? how do we recover that vapor. lo and behold they're doing that, it's going to become a federal rule in early 2015.
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they're talking about water and well construction, you know, ensuring that the integrity of the well is good, if the integrity of the well is good, the the cement is solid, you're not going to have -- excuse me, wiewr not going to have fracking fluid coming up into the water table, you're not going to have people whose aquifers are suddenly super charged with methane gas and you have exploding wells. there are negatives. one of the biggest negatives that we need to confront is this issue of climate change, right now people talk about climate change, well, carbon dioxide is causing that. methane is a huge contributor. something like 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, you leak a little, you're going to have problems, right now how do you make sure that doesn't leak out, how do you, as someone put it to me the other day, it's a plumbing problem, you've got to fix the leaks. >> well, you know, the generation of activists, the
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activists, call them whatever you want, this is not just like any group of people who oppose business or any group of people who oppose an energy production. this is kind of a whole other level, and i think that the concerns about this stuff, legitimate or not, have gotten to a point where that's kind of all people do all day long, they oppose this kind of activity. >> no, i remember seeing a poster at a rally i was at that said no fracking. no nuclear. no coal. and so the question becomes, okay, how do you run modern society? there are some good points that the activists raise, but i think one of the mistakes that is often made is there's a sense you have to choose, you either have to be profossil fuel or prorenewable, and that's not really the case. >> your point on george mitchell is he actually was a pretty good straddler. >> well, yes, but right now we have this inschedulable opportunity in the united states, we have so much more gas than we ever thought we were
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going to. if you want to build a power grid that has 20, 30% renewables, wind and solar, you need something to back it up, and natural gas is incredibly good fuel to do that. so you don't have to choose fossil fuels over renewables. let me give you a perfect example, united states has been using more natural gas and less coal to create electricity. >> yep. >> charge our iphones, et cetera. and the carbon dioxide, the amount of green house gasses has gone down, in europe, where they are much bigger into renewables, much larger subsidies, they haven't embraced natural gas and lo and behold, their emissions have gone up. what do we really want? what's our goal, as a society we want cheap, affordable, low carbon energy, natural gas has to play a part in that right now, and that's realism. >> let me move away, we have about three minutes left, move away from the book and go to another topic, you were a finalist for the pulitzer prize
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for your coverage of the deep water horizon spill, as we sit here today in late march, we have a pretty significant spill off the coast of texas. >> yep. >> in galveston. >> uh-huh. >> can you give us a sense of what we're looking at over the next couple of weeks out? how does something like this play out? how does this compare to similar things we've seen elsewhere? what should we expect? >> well, you know, unfortunately, we're go together expect that a lot -- this is heavy, very gooey fuel oil. it's going to get into the the wildlife, it's going to be hard to cleanup, we sort of caught a break that some of it went offshore, it's easier to get rather than going into the marshes around galveston bay, one of the first questions i asked was was that barge that was carrying the fuel oil, was it double hulled? because that's one of the big things that happened, you have to have double hulls. >> ironically this spill happened on the literal 25th anniversary of the exxon valdes spill, somebody with a bad sense of humor. >> lo and behold it was double
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hulled. one of the questions, we have solved one of the problems that we identified in exxon valdes, you need to be down howell. wait a minute. it still happened. how do you solve that? how can you fix that, but it's not a good situation, it's migratory bird season. >> as we're sitting here, there were cannons going off in galveston bay trying to keep the birds from mingling with the oil. this all feels frighteningly familiar. >> it really is amazing 25 years to the day later that this happened. >> what do we do? is there no way -- is this going to be essentially a cost of doing business deals, victim of our own success, if we're going to have this much activity on the energy front, we're going to be transporting large amounts of oil all over the place because that's our destiny economically, that's our destiny in terms of energy, we're going to have to accept that a certain amount of error is going to happen and these are going to be the consequences? >> well, one of the things in the united states we do is -- well, let me put it this way:
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in europe, they always -- before you start something new, a major industrial process like fracking, they want to make sure, is it going to be done safely, have we figured out all the different things, in the united states we don't do that, we're more reactive. we say let's fix that. so really what we need to do is be incredibly vigilant and incredibly focused on figuring out what these problems are, because we've identified problems and we shouldn't even wait for the spill in galveston bay, we should be out there saying, wait a second, if we're carrying a lot of oil and fuel oil through this area and we know it's a natural area, we know they're migratory birds, what can we do to try to ensure and prevent traffic bumping into each other, vessels bumping into each other, one of the things we can do is not be so reactive, let's look and try to figure out what some of these fixes are. a lot of times the fixes are not hugely expensive. some of the fixes are actually beneficial to company, for
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instance with leaks, you stop the leaks, you have more natural gas to sell. >> some of these companies that have had extraordinairey costs after the fact, they would love to go back and spend the money to prevent. >> bp was a perfect example, they were spending a million dollars a rig, rushing, rushing, rushing because they were over budget, instead of making sure that the well was closed properly, they're going to end up spending tens of billions of dollars. >> tens of billions of dollars after the effect. i know you worked on the book for a long time. it's of the moment. i hope it's a big success. russell gold, thank you very much. thank you. [ applause ] >> we'd love to have you join us in the studio, visit our website at klru.org/overheard, to find invitations to interviews, q and a's with our audience and guests and an archive of past episodes. >> about a year and a half ago i did a bunch of reporting down in
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eagle ford in south texas, very dry area, one of the things i learned was the oil and gas industry was so wealthy compared to the ranchers that when they wanted the water, they got it, they could outed by everyone. that's really something you need to keep an eye on. >> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community, experienced, respected and tested. also, by hillco partners. texas government affairs consultancy. and its global hit care consulting business unit, hillco health, and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. and viewers like you! thank
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